What we are Reading - The 2019 Edition

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  • So, I'm reading, by way of non-fiction, some books on the philosophy of knowledge (aka epistemology). By way of fiction, some books on social science, including the obsolete Open University DD100 course (Understanding Social Change). I haven't got very far yet, but it already seems to me to be way too sympathetic to Freud (another fiction writer) and considerably biased towards left wing politics. Not that left wing politics are necessarily bad politics, just that I resent the bias in an academic context.

    Best wishes, 2RM.
  • TukaiTukai Shipmate
    They say that crime doesn't pay, but it probably does if you are a well-established and successful author of crime novels.

    Among those I have read with pleasure since Christmas are:

    One Under by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles [apparently her real name!] , another in her series of police procedurals set in London.

    Critical Mass by Sara Paretsky featuring her 'hard-boiled' female Private Eye VI Warshawski. This one was of particular interest to me as a physicist, as a critical part of the plot - or more specifically the backstory - concerned people involved in the development of the atom bomb in WW2 [successfully] in the USA and [unsuccessfully] in Germany.

    The Lost Man by Jane Harper, which brilliantly evokes the feeling of the sun-baked red centre of Australia and those few who try to earn a living from cattle-ranching there (at about 1 beast per square mile, which is all that environment will support ) . This follows her previous novels which are equally evocative of other parts of Australia, respectively the sheep and wheat belt of northern Victoria and the mountain forest of Victoria.

    And now for a change of pace, I am half-way through reading the original (1818) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, which is pretty good so far, despite the rather formal prose of that period.
  • ChoristerChorister Shipmate
    'A boy made of Blocks' by Keith Stuart, a very good novel about a dad's relationship with his autistic son - which was initially non-existent apart from in a limited confrontational way, but develops into something really authentic when they share their interest in Minecraft together. Heartwarming and full of hope for other people who may find relating to their very different children difficult. A novel based, you suspect, on a great deal of truth.
  • NicoleMRNicoleMR Shipmate
    edited March 7
    Just read Dear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner, finished it in one day it was so compelling. A TA novel about a high school girl from a messed up family who finds solace in writing unsent emails to Rachel Maddow. It's excellent, gut-wrenching, and ultimately satisfying in avoiding an unrealistically happy ending, but giving a bittersweet resolution. Oh, it's a young adult novel, I should have mentioned.
  • I have started on Dan Jones’ history of the Plantagenets. The reviews describe it as like Game of Thrones, except it’s true, which I think is about right. I’m enjoying it very much so far.

    (The slight singularity is that I am reading it in a French translation, rather than the original English, having borrowed it from my local public library.)
  • NicoleMRNicoleMR Shipmate
    That TA in my post above should be YA.
  • ChoristerChorister Shipmate
    'Ivy and Abe' by Elizabeth Enfield. OK, I admit I picked it because the title of the book was depicted as Scrabble letters, and I'm rather fond of (nay addicted to) Scrabble. However, this was the only similarity, as there is nothing about the best word game in the world in the book.

    Instead, the author imagines that two people fall in love at different times and in different places (parallel universes if you like), according to when and how they met by chance - sometimes as children, as young adults, as OAPs. Each scenario has a different ending, some happy, some sad. It meant that I found it hard to read in one sitting, as each chapter read like an individual short story, albeit with a common theme. I think it would work better by reading a chapter a day.
  • Tangentially related to the "Removing Citizenship" thread in Purg - I just finished reading Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland.

    I picked it up because it was described as a true crime story. The initial focus of the story is on the abduction and murder of Jean McConville by paramilitaries in 1972, but the majority of the book tells a history of the Troubles from the late sixties through the Good Friday accord, mostly through the eyes of several prominent IRA members.

    The author is an American of Irish descent; I don't know whether he has any dog in the fight.

    I found it fascinating and well-written, although in retrospect it's a little disturbing how good it was at making the reader sympathize with extremely violent people on both sides of the conflict. (Especially the descriptions of former IRA members as elderly people in the early 2000s, wracked by PTSD and substance abuse.) I didn't have any prior knowledge of the Troubles other than having watched Derry Girls 😀 Now I want to read more.
  • Currently halfway through The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass: Adrian Plass and the Church Weekend.

    Not my 'thing' but it's research for my own fiction.

    Allegedly Plass's book is funny but it tries too hard and too often the characters say things that are meant to be amusing but which sound like writing rather than speech. Plass also has a massive weakness for lists.

    Still, at least it's short.
  • I think the Adrian Plass books are probably funnier to those who are better acquainted with the subculture they send up. Having grown up in British evangelicalism in the 80s and 90s, I knew ALL those people.
  • DooneDoone Shipmate
    Me too, La Vie - I love them, helped keep me sane through some of the nonsense, but always understanding and forgiving of our frailties/sillier moments. Not taking ourselves too seriously is underrated in my opinion!
  • I think the Adrian Plass books are probably funnier to those who are better acquainted with the subculture they send up. Having grown up in British evangelicalism in the 80s and 90s, I knew ALL those people.

    That's my impression too.
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    Having just finished Gullstruck Island I think I’ve used up all of Francis Hardinge’s oeuvre. I shall go camp on her doorstep until she writes another.
  • ChoristerChorister Shipmate
    Currently reading 'Respectable' by Lynsey Hanley, who grew up on a large council estate in Birmingham and then went to University, concerning her thoughts re starting off working class and then encountering various barriers to her becoming middle class. A more modern version of 'Gorbals boy at Oxford' perhaps. I'm also interested in the fact that she quotes liberally from Richard Hoggart's 'The uses of Literacy', the first book on my reading list when I went to college (and which I didn't understand too well at the time - through Hanley's eyes it is making more sense).
  • Tree BeeTree Bee Shipmate
    I’m currently reading Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. An original but mystifying book that I want to finish despite the fact I’m not enjoying it. Anyone else read it?
  • EigonEigon Shipmate
    I've just started Jeannette Ng's Under the Pendulum Sun, which has won various fantasy awards. Our Heroine has arrived in Fairyland, where her brother is a missionary, in an alternate 19th century.
    It harks back to classic Gothic novels, with Our Heroine arriving at a strange big house, and there's just been a Mr Rochester-style encounter with a horseman outside the walls.
    Also, she has been having theological discussions with a gnome, and not doing too well at explaining her faith so far.
    Slow paced but engrossing so far.
  • SusanDorisSusanDoris Shipmate
    On the recommendation of several people, I sent for an Ursula LeGuin book (the first of the EarthSea Chronicles) and have started listening this afternoon. I have got to Chapter 3 but that's enough. I find that I cannot get into the story in any way. I can't remember where the exchange of posts was, but there were other titles which I should read to remedy the lack in my reading! Can anyone remember where this was, or suggest a more accessible LeGun book, please?
  • EigonEigon Shipmate
    I'd suggest The Telling, which is about an anthropologist going to a planet where the culture she was studying has been outlawed by the time she gets there. Or some of her short stories in the Hainish cycle, or Rocannan's World, maybe.
    The first Earthsea book starts a bit like an oral folk tale, I think, which can be off putting if you're not used to the style.
  • SusanDorisSusanDoris Shipmate
    Eigon wrote: »
    I'd suggest The Telling, which is about an anthropologist going to a planet where the culture she was studying has been outlawed by the time she gets there. Or some of her short stories in the Hainish cycle, or Rocannan's World, maybe.
    The first Earthsea book starts a bit like an oral folk tale, I think, which can be off putting if you're not used to the style.
    Many thanks - I'll phone the NLB and see if they have those - I think I'll try the short stories first.

  • SusanDorisSusanDoris Shipmate
    Eigon
    I have phoned NLB - they haven't got 'The Telling' or 'The Hainish' series, but they do have a set of short stories - the name of which I've already forgotten, but which are a mixture of comedy and tragedy apparently, so I'll try those.
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    edited March 22
    The Left Hand of Darkness is another title you might enquire after. A human emissary arrives on a planet to negotiate an alliance with the inhabitants. Who are also human, but differently.
  • HedgehogHedgehog Shipmate
    My first LeGuin was The Lathe of Heaven, about a man whose dreams affect the real world. Or what we call the real world.
  • Chorister wrote: »
    'Ivy and Abe' by Elizabeth Enfield. ... the author imagines that two people fall in love at different times and in different places (parallel universes if you like), according to when and how they met by chance - sometimes as children, as young adults, as OAPs. Each scenario has a different ending, some happy, some sad.

    Oooh, I like the look of this. It's going on the To Read List.

    Re. Adrian Plass: is this a new one? I hadn't heard of it. I had been thinking recently that I wouldn't say no to reading a new one of his (and there's bound to be some I've not read, him being so prolific). I agree that sometimes his humour doesn't quite hit the spot, but taken overall I think he's very funny and perceptive.

    As for me, I have just finished Cloud Atlas. I loved the middle two stories, although I wasn't altogether sure how the other four fitted with it (except the first perhaps, with its theme of Pacific colonialism). Still, I do recommend it.

  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    I read a kids' book recently (I like reading kids' books now and then) called Not the End of the World, by Geraldine McCraughrean. A retelling of the Noah's ark story, mainly from the perspective of a daughter of Noah, and also from other women (and occasionally animals too). The premise is this daughter harbours stowaways - a little boy and his baby sister - and has to keep it secret because Noah believes it's God's will that everyone except his family is killed in the flood. I was quite impressed with how the story was explored.
  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host
    Tree Bee wrote: »
    I’m currently reading Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. An original but mystifying book that I want to finish despite the fact I’m not enjoying it. Anyone else read it?

    Yes! It was a slow start for me -- the format is hard to get into, and I kept rebelling against his mixing real historical quotes and facts with made-up ones, though I understood why he was doing it. But I kept on and by the end found it beautiful and very moving. Persevere!
  • I'm a quarter of the way into Oracle Night by Paul Auster. Intriguing. It shouldn't really work because so much of it is first person narration which usually gets tiresome, but the prose is so clean it slips along nicely.

    The 'bite' is that the premise is so odd that one can expect almost anything to happen at any moment. If the MC walked through a looking-glass or turned into a cockroach I wouldn't be the least surprised, other than by the lack of originality.

    Highly recommended.
  • SusanDorisSusanDoris Shipmate
    On the subject of 'Through the Looking Glass', which was recommended to be re-read, either on this thread or on Cold comfort, I have an audio copy, beautifully read, and am listening to it. It is, as was mentioned, a pleasure to do so, especially appreciating far more the skill of Lewis Carroll's writing than one did the first time. In fact, I think I'm going to listen to 'Alice in Wonderland' later.
  • A Lenten Hobo Honeymoon by Edward Hays. I love all of his books, and I find them both entertaining and enlightening. He almost always adds some form of art to the subject matter of his books. In this one he has added real Hobo markings to the pages to guide the reader.
  • NenyaNenya Shipmate
    My next book club book is The Muse by Jessie Burton. I read it a few weeks ago now - lost concentration partway through and came to in the haircutting bit thinking, "What? Wait - what's this all about?"

    I intended to revisit it so that I can make some sort of intelligent contribution to the discussion, but then my copy of Richard Rohr's The Universal Christ arrived so all other reading is on hold.
  • jedijudyjedijudy Heaven Host
    My daughter lent me one of her books a couple of months ago, and now I've just started reading it. Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan is an interesting read. The universe is not ours, but the people are compelling and I'm enjoying the book.

    Apparently there are magic-ish kinds of things that seem to be the norm in the world where the story takes place. I'm still trying to figure out the relationships and what makes everyone tick.

    I'll follow up later as I get more into the story!
  • SusanDorisSusanDoris Shipmate
    Last night I caught a programme on Radio 4 Extra which was one of the famous lives series. The subject was Caroline Norton, who was Melbourne's mistress and who played a crucial part in establishing a mother's right to see her children if she was divorced etc. However, I listened to an audio book a while back about the Queen's great (or great-great)grandmother who I thought was the one behind it. She was the Duchess of Strath-something. Does anyone remember her name? It was a fascinating book.
  • SusanDorisSusanDoris Shipmate
    Have now listened to the wikipedia page about Caroline Norton. Maybe it was the 1877 Married Women's Property Act in which the Duchess of Strath-something was involved.
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    I've just finished The Wych Elm by Tana French. Certainly the book that has engaged me the most recently. On one level a murder mystery, it goes much deeper than that. Some of the best plotting and character development I've come across in a while.
  • ChoristerChorister Shipmate
    'A Gentleman in Moscow', Amor Towles. Mainly reading it because Mr. C. spent many months working in Moscow and I enjoyed visiting as a semi-resident rather than as a tourist.

    A complete stranger came up to me and commented on the book, saying she really enjoyed it, although she found it hard work to get into at first. As I'm not finding it at all hard to get into, it sounds as if I'll really, really enjoy it if her recommendation is correct. There are already some quite charming subtleties of humour and I'm only on p.33.
  • TwilightTwilight Shipmate
    I loved that, Chorister! Not as much as I loved his, "The Rules of Civility," but close.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Shipmate
    Tree Bee wrote: »
    I’m currently reading Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. An original but mystifying book that I want to finish despite the fact I’m not enjoying it. Anyone else read it?

    As @Trudy said, this took some stamina and perseverance -- just keeping up with the cast of characters! -- but it was really moving and gave me more historical and imaginative insights into Lincoln. Polyphony, too, because the recorded audio is like some great spoken opera. or choral theatre. I've followed George Saunders' fictions since he began publishing in the New Yorker and feel a little ambivalent about his work, but this was marvellous.
  • jedijudyjedijudy Heaven Host
    I finished Of Bees and Mist yesterday evening. Apparently this is Erick Setiawan's first and only book. I would recommend he write another one!

    Two nights ago, I stayed awake until almost 2:00 AM reading the book. That is unheard of for me at my age! It's not like a traditional page-turner, but I was so interested in the characters, that I wanted to find out how they would handle their various situations.

    The story is about two families, and their dysfunctions. Some of the situations reminded me so much of what I have gone through with various family members, that I could feel myself getting angry along with the characters.

    As the younger characters matured and became their own persons, I was cheering for them, and really appreciating the author's picture of them as caring people and not selfish or subdued as they were as children. The (evil) mother-in-law and her unwise son were so aggravating that I really wanted them to get their just desserts!

    The magic-like aspects of the story (bees and mist) sometimes seemed just thrown in, but moved the action along without having to go into great detail.

    This is a book I would recommend.

  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host
    Chorister wrote: »
    'A Gentleman in Moscow', Amor Towles. Mainly reading it because Mr. C. spent many months working in Moscow and I enjoyed visiting as a semi-resident rather than as a tourist.

    A complete stranger came up to me and commented on the book, saying she really enjoyed it, although she found it hard work to get into at first. As I'm not finding it at all hard to get into, it sounds as if I'll really, really enjoy it if her recommendation is correct. There are already some quite charming subtleties of humour and I'm only on p.33.

    Oh yes, that's a lovely book.

    I just finished C.J. Sansom's Tombland. Has anyone else read this series of Tudor detective mysteries? I've really enjoyed all of them. A lot of people are saying Tombland is likely to be the last of the series as the author, sadly, has terminal cancer. I was trying to evaluate the ending from that point of view and think whether I'd be happy with it as an ending to the series -- I think if it does turn out to the be the end, it leaves our hero with enough hopeful things in his (generally quite difficult) life to feel that he could have at least a moderately happy ending.
  • DooneDoone Shipmate
    Oh no, I didn’t know that about Sansom! I’m a few chapters from the end of Tombland and in that ‘wanting to know how it all ends’, but ‘not wanting it to finish’ state. I’ve really enjoyed the whole series!
  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host
    Yes, it's been a great series, beginning to (probably) end. I haven't heard any updates about Sansom's health since the book came out but am wishing him well ... he's not that old, only late 60s.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Has anyone read A Nearly Infallible History of Christianity by Nick Page? Just seen it in a charity shop and thought it looked good. I googled and it has good reviews, so I think I will pop back and buy it.
  • The RogueThe Rogue Shipmate
    I've just seen on Facebook the latest escape room idea. A book store with well marked exits and just one hour to get out. Good luck!
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    Browsing the library shelves for some long weekend reading, I picked up a whodunnit by NZ author Ngaio Marsh, Vintage Murder -- halfway through and thoroughly enjoying it.
  • CathscatsCathscats Shipmate
    I love Ngaio Marsh, dated bits and all! (But don't try her autobiography - she had no idea how to write that!)
  • EigonEigon Shipmate
    I've just started The Derring-Do Club and The Invasion of the Grey, the third in the Derring-Do Club series by David Wake.
    I saw him at a convention, where he was getting members of the audience up to help dramatize scenes from this book, and it was such a funny evening that I bought the whole series to date - three Victorian sisters, having improbable adventures. This one involves strange lights over Dartmoor, French spies, and the difficulties in acquiring a satisfactory wet nurse.
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    Sounds intriguing...

    Thanks Cathscats for the warning about the autobiography!

    One of my current podcasts is Radio NZ's Elemental, a look at the elements of the periodic table. I am so obsessed now I borrowed Ulf Lagerkvist's The Periodic Table and a Missed Nobel Prize *and* (deep breath) The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean.

    Into the latter...what fun. It covers the characters involved not only in the discovery of elements but in their use in society. There was an interesting, but brief, look at Mendeleev, the man who created the periodic table (there were others) and other interesting tales of people throughout history tied to the table or the elements. The title comes from a trick you can play with gallium, which is solid at room temperature but a liquid at around 30°C.

    And belated thanks to Barnabas Aus for mentioning Andrea Wulf's The Invention of Nature on Alexander von Humboldt: a great read.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Shipmate
    Talking of periodic tables and the elements, @Climacus, have you ever read Primo Levi's The Periodic Table (1975), based on his experience as a Jewish-Italian chemist and anti-Fascist partisan during the Holocaust? It is one of the most moving and unusual books I know.
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    Thank you, MaryLouise; I am sure I had heard of it several years ago somewhere and was intrigued, but I forgot to seek out a copy. It will be next. Thanks again.
  • TukaiTukai Shipmate
    Thomas Keneally , Three cheers for the Paraclete.

    Keneally was a Catholic seminarian before he was an author, and this book from the 1960s, heavily satirises some of the reactionary teachers he had there, in the course of a rather funny tale of the misfortunes that befall a junior staff member who actually believes that compassion is more important than canon law and strict adherence to doctrinal "purity".

    As one of the students remarks before dropping out, "I don't think Jesus Christ would pass the theology exams here, because he hasn't read Aquinas or studied Fr Costello's lecture notes".
  • EigonEigon Shipmate
    I'd known for some time that Barbara Hambly, who I came across as one of the better writers of Star Trek novels in the 1980s, also wrote a mystery series featuring a black detective in historic New Orleans.
    I've finally tracked down the third in the series - Graveyard Dust - and really enjoyed it.
    Our hero, Benjamin January, is a free man of colour in New Orleans of the 1830s. In this story Ben's sister, who practices voodoo, is accused of murder, and he sets out to prove her innocence.
    Barbara Hambly has obviously done a lot of research into the Creole society of the time, and it's a fascinating view of a very different world. The United States has just taken over (I presume the Louisiana Purchase), so there are tensions between French and English speakers, Catholics and Protestants (and voodoo), as well as the complications of slave and free.
    The first book in the series is called A Free Man of Color.
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